Saturday, 7 January 2012

Review: Dearly Departed by Lia Habel

A huge thank you to Harriet at Random House Children's Books for providing me with a review copy.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie? 
The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modelled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses. 
But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.
The first book in the ‘Gone with the Respiration’ series.

This book is a brilliant example of what a difference a cover can make. The cover is usually the first thing I see, it’s the point of contact where the book grabs me and says ‘look at me! I’m awesome! You’ll never regret getting me!’ either that or ‘steer clear, you’re being judgemental’. I’m bad, very very bad, I do judge books by their covers. I try not to, but as I said, first point of contact!

U.S. Cover
So I first saw this book with the American cover, and I thought ‘hmm, self this looks like a good book, but it is not nabbing my attention enough to get it now, I shall keep browsing.’
Until the other day, the fabulous Harriett over at Random House Children’s Books sent me a copy with the UK cover, and before I even realised it was the same book I was shrieking with joy and saying ‘self, this cover! This book is going to be fabulous! Look at that tag line! Look at the gone with the wind southern belle aspect, and the pasty brooding guy! And the lamps! And, hey look! Are those zombies staggering around in the background?! Dear god this is fantastic!’ And I promptly started reading it. Just like that, perception changed, the book became an immediate I must read this now.
And it was such a good read! I love it when an author has a sense of humour, and is genuinely just having fun and this comes across throughout the book. 

There are moments of genius and moments of sheer ridiculous, and some sharp and witty banter that had me giggling aloud. The sense of fun and amusement on the part of the author comes across so strongly through reading it that it made it an even more enjoyable read for me. Just look at the series title – ‘Gone with the Respiration’ that alone was enough to make me laugh out lout and demand more.

It had a similar feel to some of Gail Carriger’s work, the same humour, the same elegant wit, and parasols, don’t forget the parasols. But because it’s set in the future there was a lot more room to manoeuvre and play with the language and setting. I was a bit hesitant to start with, but actually this worked out incredible well. Take the parasols that have a gas lamp on the top to indicate whether a woman can be dated, is married, or is more interested in other women – genius.

I loved the characters. Nora was a breath of fresh air – she actually freaks when confronted with undead monsters. It takes her a long time to start to trust and be ok with the idea, and when she first emerges from behind her safely locked door, the first thing she demands is guns. I love her for this so much you wouldn’t believe. But as well as being smart and sassy and a little bit pouty at times, she’s incredibly loyal and fights for those she cares about which made her an all round fabulous heroine.

And Bram, oh baby I do not normally like zombie’s but you have to be the most gentlemanly and lovely of them all. And very little decomposing going on, which is always a bonus… I’ll talk a bit more about the romance in a moment, but suffice to say he was intelligent, sharp, gentle and again, fiercely protective (without any stalker aspects, which is always a bonus.)

The host of secondary characters were on the whole pretty awesome. A little more could have gone into making Bram’s crew more distinguishable earlier on, I found myself a bit confused at points who was who, but that does sort itself out part way through.

Even the characters who only got a bit of main time were really well written and believable, for the most part very funny, and a fantastic array of the different facets of society both alive and dead, in this whole new world.

And Pam. Oh boy did she get awesome. I am so excited to see more of the Pam that emerges when everything falls apart. She was actually more interesting than Nora at points, just because of the strength and determination she showed when it came to protecting those she loved, and even those she barely knew that she wanted to help.

Let’s talk about romance – more specifically zombie romance. I’m not a fan. The idea of someone shambling along with bits decomposing and dropping off who would quite like to eat your braaaainssss, and a live human having a romance has filled me with a slightly shuddery feeling in the past, so I’ve steered well clear of zombie romances until last year. Then I read ‘Warm Bodies’ by Isaac Marrion, and my perception changed. All of a sudden it didn’t have to be this slightly disturbing zombie half eating human weird romance. It could be based on more than making out (shock, horror) and be more about the connection between two individuals.

This was also the case with Bram and Nora, and I liked the two of them together, how their relationship and friendship developed. And Ms Habel neatly sidesteps the ick factor by creating a zombie boy who isn’t decomposing – not in the same way. All of a sudden we have a yummy boy (yes he’s still yummy, despite the eyes) who just happens to be dead. He’s still him, he still has a sense of humour and can fight and sing as good as the living boys – actually he seems to have a better moral code than most of the rest of the living boys. And at that stage, where he isn’t decomposing and shambling around screaming brains, where he is still in tact, merely dead, we have the same scenario as most of the human girl with a dead vampire boy books out there – and no one seems to have a problem with the ick factor there.
What I am trying to say (albeit not particularly eloquently) is that the romance, particularly the zombie un-dead element should not be something that makes you judge this book before even fully reading it.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses though, I did have a couple of problems with the book which prevented me from giving it the full five star love. Firstly, the number of point of views. There were five. Now I would have been happy with just Bram and Nora, I think their story was fascinating enough just on its own, with the exterior elements being fed in through them. However then Pamela’s story line got really epic and we wouldn’t have seen that without her point of view, so I was ok with that one too. Wolfe’s and Dr Dearly’s were a bit much though. I didn’t find them as compelling, and I just wanted to skip back to the action. I felt that the things that were revealed through those point of view’s (actually I don’t think anything much was revealed through Wolfe’s) could have been fed into the story in other ways, cutting down the number of characters and points of view which made my head reel a little bit at times.

The other thing was the sheer volume. Don’t get me wrong, I love long books, there’s a lot more scope in them and a lot more can be included, but in some cases in this book I felt like there was just a bit too much. I realise that there was a vast amount of information to be covered throughout the book – there was so much back story and information to get the reader up to speed with the world, but it felt like some of that could have been cut down or cut out. Some of the situations were given time to amble along which meant that the road to epic showdown was a long one, and meant that I put the book down a lot just to have a break even though I was enjoying it so much.

So it was still brilliant, I still loved it, I will still look forward to the sequel with baited breath, but there were a few flaws that made it not quite so dazzlingly brilliant as it could have been. (Although if I did half stars this would be a 4.5 instead of a four.) However if you like Steampunk, humour and an incredibly brilliant plot then this is an absolute must read.

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